Virginia voters will be asked Tuesday to amend the state constitution to streamline the way nonprofit organizations apply for local property-tax breaks.
Currently the state constitution requires nonprofits that want local exemptions to get permission from the legislature. Lawmakers almost always approve requests that have local officials' support.
State lawmakers who endorse the ballot measure say the approval process is redundant and a waste of time, paperwork and money. If voters approve the ballot measure Tuesday, the final word on granting local tax exemptions will rest with local officials.
There appears to be little formal opposition to the change.
"It's a kind of housekeeping by the General Assembly, an effort to simplify government," said Jerald D. Banagan, president of the Virginia Association of Assessing Officers and the assessor for Virginia Beach.
"In any given year we get 20, 30 or 40 requests from the swim club or the Elks Lodge or something like that," said House Speaker-designate William J. Howell (R-Stafford), the measure's prime sponsor. "It's local money, local real estate taxes, and local officials should make the decision."
Howell said he originally tried to accomplish the change through legislation. But he said the state attorney general ruled that it would need to be done constitutionally, requiring that the proposal get approval at two different sessions of the General Assembly and then from voters at the polls.
Nonprofit organizations currently can receive exemption from local property taxes in one of two ways.
Whole categories of property and uses are constitutionally exempt. They include state property, cemeteries, public libraries, nonprofit hospitals, churches, public parks and museums. Local officials can approve those types of exemptions without legislative approval, said John P. Grzejka, Manassas commissioner of the revenue.
Other nonprofits have to get a special eligibility designation from the legislature. Even though lawmakers usually follow the locality's lead, the General Assembly still has to pass the legislation, said Michael L. Edwards of the Virginia Municipal League.
The state code is crammed with specific exemptions for specific organizations, such as the Association for the Preservation of Petersburg Antiquities and the United Spanish War Veterans.
"It does take an enormous amount of the General Assembly's time to get these through the process," Grzejka said. "There are days and days of hearings by groups that want designation."
Groups representing counties and municipalities support the constitutional change.
"It is really removing the General Assembly from a process that we think should be a local process," said Ellen R. Davenport, public finance director for the Virginia Association of Counties.
Howell said the constitutional changes would make approvals easier on everybody. "There's no need for the General Assembly to get involved," said the future speaker. "We have more to do than put a rubber stamp on these things."